Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite on Sexual Abstinence in Orthodox Marriages

NOTE: The following article is extracted from the canons and footnotes of The Rudder:

St Nikodemos

QUESTION V (From the 18 Canons of Timothy of Alexandria)

If a woman has coition with her husband during the night, or as likely as not, a man with his wife, and a church meeting ensues, ought they to partake of communion, or not`?

Answer

They ought not to do so, because the Apostle says emphatically: “Do not defraud one other except by mutual consent, for a time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; and then come together again so that Satan not tempt you in your incontinency” (I Corinthians 7:5).

Interpretation

To one who had asked whether a married couple ought to partake of the divine Mysteries, when a liturgy is held in the morning, and they have had sexual intercourse with each other during the night immediately preceding, the Saint replied in the present Canon that they ought not to commune;1 and in witness thereof he cites the words of the Apostle, who orders married couples not to deprive one party the other of sexual intercourse, save by agreement of both the parties; and only then not to have sexual intercourse when a Divine Liturgy is being celebrated, on Saturday and the Lord’s Day, and in general on all Feast Days, so that they may partake of communion (for it is thus that the passage saying “that you may devote yourselves to prayer” is interpreted in Canon XIII of this same Saint as well as in the third Canon of St. Dionysios, both of which Canons you may read for yourself), and again to mingle carnally, and to do this on account of their irrestrainable desire, so as to prevent Satan from tempting them by inciting them to commit fornication or to commit adultery with wives of other men or husbands of other women, as the case may be.

NOTES:

  1. Lawfully married couples ought, therefore, to abstain from sexual intercourse at least for three days, and then come to church for communion; and see the first Footnote to Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod.

 imagesJDSSGMHT

QUESTION XIII (From the 18 Canons of Timothy of Alexandria)

What days of the week ought to be assigned to those who are conjoined in marriage for them to abstain from communion with each other? And on what days ought they to have it?

Answer

Though I have already answered this question, I will answer now once more. The Apostle says. “Do not defraud one another, unless it be for a time by mutual agreement, in order that you may devote yourselves to prayer” (I Corinthians 7:5). And again: “Come together again, that Satan may tempt you in your incontinency (ibid.). But one must necessarily abstain on Saturday and the Lord’s Day, on account of the fact that on these days the spiritual sacrifice is being offered to the Lord.

Interpretation

The Saint has been asked on what days of the week married couples ought not to have sexual intercourse by mingling together carnally, and he has replied in the present Canon, by citing in evidence the words of St. Paul addressed to married couples, to the effect that neither of the parties ought to deprive the other of carnal intercourse, unless both of them abstain from coition by agreement for a time, in order to engage in prayer, and that they ought again to mingle with each other soon enough to prevent Satan from tempting them on account of their failing to mix themselves together as wine is mixed with water. In explaining at what time and what prayer Paul means for married couples to refrain from coition, the Saint states that it is Saturday and The Lord’s day (and in general every feast day), on which days they are obliged to refrain from sexual intercourse because of the fact that for the most part it was on those particular days that the spiritual sacrifice used to be performed, or, in other words, the divine liturgy used to be celebrated, and they had to prepare themselves and get ready to partake of the Divine Mysteries. See also Canon III of Dionysios.

Before becoming monastics, Geronda Joseph Voutsas and Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsa were married. The 2 never consummated their marriage & lived as brother and sister.
Before becoming monastics, Geronda Joseph Voutsas and Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsa were married. The 2 never consummated their marriage & lived as brother and sister.

MARRIED COUPLES RESPONSIBILITY WHEN COMMUNING OF THE MYSTERIES

But in his eleventh reply to a question asked by Marcus of Alexandria Balsamon asserts that married couples must necessarily refrain from having sexual intercourse not only on the day that they are to commune, but also on the day before communion day as well as on the day after communion day, and all those who fail to observe this requirement must be canonized with severe penalties; and see Footnote 1 to Canon III of the 6th Ecumenical Synod. But even if they do not partake of communion on those days, again they ought to refrain from all sexual intercourse. Wherefore Balsamon too in his forty-ninth reply to a question asked by the same Marcus asserts that any married couples that fail to practice continence by abstaining from carnal intercourse on Saturday and the Lord’s Day ought to be corrected with moderate penalties. Likewise such couples are also obliged to abstain from coition during the Great Fast and on Wednesdays and Fridays; and see the Footnote to Apostolic Canon IX.

St Chrysanthus and his wife Darius mutually agreed to lead celibate lives. They lived in separate houses.
St Chrysanthus and his wife Darius mutually agreed to lead celibate lives. They lived in separate houses.

CANON III of Dionysios of Alexandria

Persons who are self-sufficient and married ought to be judges of themselves. For we are told in writing by St. Paul that it is fitting that they should abstain from each other by agreement for a time in order that they may indulge in prayer, and again come together (I Corinthians 7:5).

Interpretation

And when asked about husbands and wives whether they ought to be continent respecting each other, the Saint answers that on this point the parties themselves ought to be sufficient judges, since it is fitting and proper according to blessed Paul for them to engage in no bodily association and intercourse when they are indulging in prayer20 and this course ought to be adopted by agreement between both parties – that is to say, by both the husband and the wife agreeing thereto – lest it should come to pass that one of the parties is tempted by the enemy, and the continence of the other become an injury to the one so tempted. For if one party is overcome by desire and is not permitted by the other party to enjoy the satisfaction of it, he is liable to fall with another woman and sin, according to Zonaras.

The Rudder. In addition to the texts of the canons, St. Nicodemus includes his own commentary.
The Rudder. In addition to the texts of the canons, St. Nicodemus includes his own commentary.

RECONCILING “PRAY ALWAYS” AND ABSTAIN FROM INTERCOURSE IN TIME OF PRAYER

One might wonder as follows. Since the Apostle says, “Pray continuously” (or without interruption and always), while, on the other hand, married persons must abstain from intercourse in time of prayer, according to the same St. Paul and the present Canon, so then must they always be continent and never have any intercourse at all? But this bewilderment is solved more self-sufficiently by the two Canons of Timothy of Alexandria, his Canons V and XIII, which say that by time of prayer the Apostle means when there is a synaxis (or church-meeting) and Liturgy, which in those times used to be celebrated for the most part on Saturday and The Lord’s Day, on which days married couples were required to be continent, in order to participate in Communion, or partake of the Divine Mysteries. Hence this Canon of Dionysius gives every sensible person to understand that it is immediately addressed to Basilides, who has asked whether married people are to abstain from each other whenever they have to commune. For it answers that on this point the married people themselves are sufficient judge – meaning, that is to say, that they ought to remain continent during the time of Communion. Though (I know not how) Zonaras and Balsamon failed to interpret the Canon thus, having taken prayer to mean the more serious kind of prayer, which is done with travail and tears. Note, however, that the Apostle adds that aside from prayer married people ought to remain continent during the time of fasting, which is prescribed by the Church, that is to say (and see concerning this point the third Footnote to Apostolic Canon LXIX).

exomologetarion

On page 272 of The Exomologetarion, St. Nikodemos writes: “We must also note the following, that just as there must be a fast from food on Wednesday, Friday, and Great Lent, there must also be a fast from pleasures of the flesh. For this reason weddings cannot take place on these days, because the divine Paul commands that married couples are not to come together during a time of prayer and fasting: “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5). And the divine Chrysostom, bringing the saying of Joel as a witness: “Sanctify a fast—let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet” (Jl. 2:15-16), says that even newlyweds, who have strong desire, vigorous youthfulness, and unfettered urges, are not to come together during a period of fasting and prayer.1 How much, then, are other married couples, who do not have such impulsiveness of the flesh, not to come together? Therefore, Balsamon says that married couples who do not exercise self-control during the Great Fast are not to commune on Pascha and are also to be penance.2 Likewise, married couples who come together on Wednesday and Friday must be corrected through penances.”

  1. De Virginitate 30, PG 48, 554.
  2. Responsa ad Interrogationes Marci, Question 50, PG 138, 997B-997C.

Also see, the book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy https://frsergei.wordpress.com/books/the-problematics-of-orthodox-sexuality/ http://vassilios-papavassiliou.blogspot.ca/2014/08/celibacy-as-vocation.html

Confession Room, St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Confession Room, St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Elder Ephraim of Arizona’s concerns regarding sex and marriage (Anthony T., 2015)

NOTE: The following is from a thread on an Orthodox Christian forum:

Screenshot 1: http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/33461-elder-ephraim-of-st-anthonys-monasterys-concerns-regarding-sex-and-marriage/
Screenshot 1: http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/33461-elder-ephraim-of-st-anthonys-monasterys-concerns-regarding-sex-and-marriage/

Posted 06 February 2015 – 09:53 PM

Recently, after observing the moral decay in society (i.e., gender roles, sexual immorality) I could not help but notice a peculiar trend. Testosterone levels among men have dropped a statistically significant degree each decade following the 1950’s.  A commensurate change in estrogen changes has also been observed among females since the same decade.

In short, men are losing their masculinity and becoming more effeminate whereas women are becoming more masculine.  I asked Elder Ephraim of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona about this during a recent conversation I had with him.  He mentioned that this trend — men becoming more like women and women becoming more like men — is indeed real.  For this reason, he is often misunderstood and cast as out of touch with respect to any advice he gives concerning marital relations.  He is known to have said that men should not engage in oral sex with their wives.  Moreover, he has said that some men and women should even live as brother and sister within the marital context.

In the monasteries, Geronda Ephraim is constantly compared to St. Kosmas Aitolos, Equal-to-the-Apostles.

These indications are not intended to destroy the ability of a man to enjoy his wife as God originally intended — that is to say that a man cannot enjoy sexual relations with his wife but for procreation.  Rather, Elder Ephraim wants to help us, God’s children, understand that God is trying to protect men from further emasculation because of the current ethos which allows for men to explore their “femininity” and women to explore “more masculine roles.”  Elder Ephraim’s suggestions, if not followed by many of those who come to him for help, would redound in a further decay of the gender identity of both the man and the woman and further collapse the strength of the marriage.

Elder Ephraim, is, in effect, trying to stem the gender role reversals perpetuated by the devil in today’s society.  God loves us, His children.  We should aim to do that which we can so that Christ can restore us men to the image he intended for men and women to the image he intended for women — free of the ugly demonic imprint of the past 60 years.

In Christ,

Anthony T.

Screenshot 2: Screenshot: http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/33461-elder-ephraim-of-st-anthonys-monasterys-concerns-regarding-sex-and-marriage/
Screenshot 2: Screenshot: http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/33461-elder-ephraim-of-st-anthonys-monasterys-concerns-regarding-sex-and-marriage/

After this post, someone replies, “I did not about the testosterone thing. There was an ancient tradition in the Church that the second coming is near when women become like men and men like women.”  Then  many replies follow which drift into social commentary and science around estrogen, birth control pills and the feminization of men. Then the original poster, Anthony T., posts the following plea to have his thread deleted as he posted it without a blessing:

γέροντας-εφραίμ-φιλοθείτης-αριζόνα-edited

Posted 11 February 2015 – 05:38 AM

Hello, I am the author of this thread.

Can you please delete this post as I did not have Geronda Ephraim’s blessing to post it.

As you might imagine I am terribly embarrassed and ashamed that I proceeded to post the thread without receiving a blessing.  I didn’t think twice about it. It was my fault.  Forgive me. Please delete the thread, nonetheless.

I apologize if my actions have caused any one of you, my brothers and/or sisters to be upset.  Again, forgive me.  I made a mistake.

In Christ,

Poster Name: Anthony T.

Then Michael asks a question that is never answered: “Why would you need a blessing?” The thread turns into a heated debate about the role of women in the Orthodox Church and the thread is closed.

NOTE: Anthony T. does not retract what Geronda Ephraim says, nor states that he made a mistake about what Geronda Ephraim said, he simply did not have a blessing to repeat what Geronda Ephraim said and was censured for it.

http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/33461-elder-ephraim-of-st-anthonys-monasterys-concerns-regarding-sex-and-marriage/

Screenshot 3
Screenshot 3

Also see: http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/6829-maritalsexual-relations-on-feast-and-on-fast-days/

So, why does one need a blessing to repeat things that are told them at one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries?

In the monasteries, it is taught that Confession is a Mystery and it is also confidential and private. Just as a priest cannot repeat what he has heard from the individual’s confession, so too the penitent cannot repeat what they heard in Confession. An analogy is also given that what is medicine for one can be harmful for another, thus advice shouldn’t be circulated as it is tailored to the individual to whom it was given.

This is also a way to keep busy bodies and gossips in check. Certain things that are said should not be made public knowledge “because the enemies of the monasteries can try and use it against them.”

But one of the main reasons for blessings needed to repeat things said by Geronda and his monastics: the monasteries are very private. They enjoy their privacy. They do not like outsiders prying into their business, nor knowing about their business. They do not like the happenings in the monasteries to become common knowledge—which also takes away from the illusion of the mystique and unearthly side of things. This also extends to the monastics—generally when monastics visit other monasteries for feast days, they are not really allowed to divulge the things that go on in their own monastery other than the basics: the schedule, what the monastery does for income, new projects, etc. However, because some of the monastics were friends before the monastic life, or they were in the same monastery before being transferred elsewhere, then these reunions many times evolve into conversations and idle talk which are not blessed—though this is more an issue with the monks than the nuns.

The Art of Salvation η τεχνη της σωτηριας

The biggest fear for the monasteries is for certain things to get back to priests or bishops—the perpetual “accusers and attackers of the monasteries”—which may incite temptations or problems for the monasteries. It’s not uncommon for spiritual children to call the monastery they go to and inform the abbess or abbot that a certain lay person is telling other lay people about something in the monastery that he/she shouldn’t be repeating. It’s also not uncommon for the abbot or abbess to call that person directly—or have one of their subordinates call—and ask them, or command them, to stop repeating what they have been saying. It’s also not uncommon for that individual to receive a penance, depending on the severity or sensitivity of the information that was leaked—this could be anything from an extra 33-knot prayer rope each night, or 50 extra prostrations or no communion the following Sunday or up to a month. This is to teach the individual to be more careful with their tongue the next time.

It should be noted that every wise Abbot and Abbess have trusted “ears and eyes” planted in the community who report back to them the things they see and hear in the Greek parishes. These confidants also have the obedience not to tell even their friends about this work they do for the monastery. As the Abbots and Abbesses don’t reveal where the information was leaked from when confronting individuals, it sometimes plays into the illusion that “they’re readers of hearts,” “they know hidden things,” “they see everything,” etc.

Elizabeth Constantinovna Sergiev, wife of St. John of Kronstadt
Elizabeth Constantinovna Sergiev, wife of St. John of Kronstadt

It should also be noted that the bind on the priest’s lips in the monasteries is almost non-existent. Anyone who has been a monk or nun in one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries know quite well that an abbess or abbot will freely reveal things as he or she chooses: in the case of revealing a monastic’s secrets in front of others as a “therapeutic method” to help humble the individual and instill fear not to repeat the actions, or at the very least, to instill fear in the others. When an abbess or abbot reveals to their monastics the sins or things told them in confidentiality by lay people, this is usually for their “edification” or to “help” them realize how grateful they should be that they’re not in the “hell” which is the outside world. Other times, in special cases, the monastics could be called together and informed, “So and so is coming to our monastery today.” And then their personal problems will be revealed. “So, show this person love, don’t scandalize them, etc.” If they’re going to be sent to a diakonimata to help, the individual monastics in charge will also be advised to give the lay person extra special attention, etc. Many times, in these situations, the lay person will start conversing with the monastic who may or may not have a blessing to talk about the individual’s life nor give them counsel. As the monastic knows very private and intimate details about the lay person’s life—which only the abbess, abbot or priestmonk should know—they cannot reveal to the individual that they know all about their secrets. In some cases, the abbot or abbess may have revealed to their monastics in the homily what they plan to advise the lay person. So now, in the conversation, the monastic is armed with knowing the individual’s secrets, plus knowing the superior’s fronima in how to deal with their problems. So in the conversation, the monastic can hint at many things without letting the lay person know that everyone in the monastery knows about them, and thus give the illusion that they have discernment and a deep spiritual understanding of things. It’s a classic tactic, though some monastics have been given big canonas for doing this when it stems from vainglory and they’re trying to pass themselves off as “readers of hearts and secret thoughts.”

At the end of the day, after a large group leaves, many times the superior, second-in-command and sometimes some of the trusted monastics get together and rehash about the day, share information that they heard (personal stories, sins, incomes, what’s going on in the parish that these people were from-priests, parish council, bishops, individuals, etc.)

St Chrysanthus and his wife Darius mutually agreed to lead celibate lives. They lived in separate houses.
St Chrysanthus and his wife Darius mutually agreed to lead celibate lives. They lived in separate houses.